My car history part 14: From Lotus to… Skoda?

At the end of August I finally managed to sell the RX-7.

Even after it’s engine rebuild, it hadn’t been quite right. It had scraped through the MOT with many advisories. I decided to be honest about it’s problems and re-advertised it at a lower price, listing the issues. I had a a lot of interest; over a couple of weeks, I probably had about fifteen people contact me.

Only a couple came to see it.

The first guy found several more problems and walked away.

The second person found even more… but was a great guy, and even fixed one problem for me!

In the end, a company specialising in selling RX-7s came to have a look.

And guess what?

They found even more problems.

I was offered a low amount for them to take her away, fix her up, and sell on.

My insurance was about to run out, my adverts had expired, nobody else seemed to have the cash or were trying to sell their cars first, I didn’t want to use it for the work commute as it was too thirsty and I was worried I would make it’s problems worse, and even though I absolutely loved the MX-5, Maggy the 5th, it wasn’t the ideal car for doing a 50+ mile to work and back again down motorways slog…

I took the low offer.

But what to replace it with?

In my last post, I decided to finally be sensible, and get the efficient, diesel hatchback I should have bought on many, many occasions.

I’d done some research.

  • Diesels from before about 1998 were loud, smokey, and slow.
  • Diesels between 98/99 and 2005 were a bit more refined, efficient, and although there were some slow ones, it seemed there were plenty of nippy ones that were still efficient – some offering 130 or 150 BHP yet still getting over 50mpg, some even up to 65mpg.
  • Diesels between 2005 and around 2010 didn’t seem as good; new emissions laws meant a slight drop in power, as well as efficiently – the 130 BHP ones getting more like 45mpg. New technologies had to bought into play quickly and resulted in a few technical flaws; people were suffering from injector or DPF (Diesel Particle Filter) issues.
  • Modern diesels, in the last 3 or 4 years, were incredibly efficient, and powerful. Yet they were too new; too expensive, and problems along the line yet unknown.

So a diesel from the early noughties sounded good to me.

I’d started off looking at the BMW 1 series and Audi A3. In the price range I was considering, it would have to be a 109 BHP BMW
118d. Would it be powerful enough for me?

I took one for a test drive. It was fine; but nothing exciting.

I then tried a slightly newer 2.0 A3. That pulled beautifully; but was a bit pricier, and I realised it had a DPF, and other known (expensive) issues.

I considered a BMW 3 series from that era. But I’d had one before – albeit a 3 litre petrol model – and that had been a bit dull. Plus checking the ‘real world’ MPG figures seemed to suggest I’d only get around 45mpg.

What I found was the VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) engines of that age seemed to be superior; in particular, the 1.9TDi.

This was featured in a wide range of cars. One of the best seemed to be the Audi A4 ‘B5’. I spoke to an old work friend, who had owned a 2002 model. Supposedly the 130 BHP model he had owned achieved more MPG that the official figures – very rare – and had said that even ‘ragging it’ would be able to get over 50mpg, and he could achieve 55mpg without any major effort. It was also supposedly somewhat underrated at 130 BHP, and in reality was producing closer to 150 BHP…

I was very interested.

But I’ve always preferred hatchbacks over saloons.

So why not the A3 1.9TDi?

Real world MPG figures seem to be much lower. As far as I can ascertain, the engine isn’t exactly the same, and it’s mounted in a
different way. A cars gearing, weight, wheel size, aerodynamics and all sorts of other factors come into play regarding fuel efficiency.

So which other VAG cars were there out there with more or less the same engine, with good MPG reports?

There was the VW Golf – but it seemed most models were the dull 90 or 110 BHP models; and they were relatively expensive, compared to the A4.

Then there’s the VW Passat, Bora or Jetta – all pretty good – but not quite as ‘pretty’ as the A4.

Or there’s the Skoda – the Octavia is actually not a bad looking car.

A 130 BHP early noughties Skoda Octavia 1.9TDi could be purchased at a very reasonable price, and would be very efficient, yet nippy enough.

Hang on.

I used to drive a Lotus Elise.

Am I going to really buy a Skoda?

The old Jasper Carrott joke sprang to mind.

Two policemen are manning a speed trap. A Skoda goes past… one of the officers says to the other:

‘Sarge I’ve got his number……his chassis number’

From a Lotus Elise...
From a Lotus Elise…
... to a Skoda?
… to a Skoda?

At the end of the day though, it’s just a badge.  Skoda’s have come a long way since those days. The VAG cars are more or less the same: why be embarrassed about driving a Skoda Octavia when it’s practically the same car as an Audi A4 or Volkswagen Passat?

I did have to admit to myself though, that if I could help it, I’d rather not buy a Skoda… and to honest, I prefered the look of the A4.

I went to look at a beautiful looking example in a dark grey in Derby – it had been sold before I got there. On the way home, I went for a look
at one in Risley, but I wasn’t sure about the colour – a very dark blue. I was also less impressed with the condition of the car; although it had only had one owner, and was the same age as the previous grey car in Derby (2002), it looked rather tatty. Still, I took it out for a test drive and was very pleased – yes, I could happily buy one of these.

So I bought a Seat Leon 1.9TDi FR 150.


Well, it seemed that the real world MPG figures were even better for the Leon – even owners of the sportier FR / Cupra model with 150BHP were reporting over 50mpg with normal driving, and some claiming to even get 65mpg. It didn’t seem to make much difference having the lower powered 130BHP model.

It’s lighter than the Audi, and had the practical hatchback. I wasn’t 100% sure about the looks though, and had been determined
to take a closer look at one and have a test drive – but just couldn’t find any locally.

In the end, I’d sold the RX-7 on the Wednesday and wanted a replacement ASAP, so set out to Seat town of the UK – Peterborough.

At least it seemed that way; there were five or six on sale there, and none in Nottinghamshire. Three in particular took my fancy, and I decided that if I didn’t like the way they looked or drove in comparison to the A4, that I would then head towards Leicester where there was a couple of good examples of the Audi.

I loved the first Seat Leon I checked; I had a great test drive and was very impressed with the performance: how could a car this nippy get 50-65mpg?! I wasn’t so keen on it in silver though and although the advert said that it had the service history, the dealer told he was still ‘waiting for it from the previous owner’. Hmmm.

Next one – a lovely example in black. The dealer was useless though and the car stank of cigarette smoke, so I moved onto the next.

And bought it!

Leona (Seat Leon) joins Maggy and Mimi
Leona (Seat Leon) joins Maggy and Mimi

Leona has now joined Maggy and Mimi on my ever changing driveway. I’m hoping though now that there will be a period of stability:
the girlfriend loves her car, Maggy will always remain, and, so far, Leona is delivering. I’ve finally managed to find an efficient and practical diesel hatchback that’s also great fun to drive. I’m just hoping now that she delivers on the fuel performance… I’ve only driven back from Peterborough to Nottingham in her so far, so haven’t made any measurements. But at a ‘nice’ motorway speed, the extra sixth gear meant that she was quiet and pleasantly ambling along at only a couple of thousand RPM… as opposed to Maggy at that speed in fifth gear howling her socks off at almost 6000rpm…!

So let’s hope this is the final part of the story… at least, for a couple of months 😉


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